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March 25, 2011
Believe It
Arizona Stuns Duke

by John Gasaway

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Just 12 teams now remain in pursuit of the national championship, and arguably two of the best three play against each other tonight.

WEST

(5) Arizona 93, (1) Duke 77 [70 possessions]
Please don't try to explain this outcome by citing anything we already knew before tip-off. For instance don't say it was the location of the game. Storrs, Connecticut, is even further away from Anaheim than is Durham, North Carolina, while San Diego is of course much closer to the Honda Center than is Tucson. And don't say it was Duke's "lack of athleticism." With my own two eyes I saw this program win a national championship last April with essentially this same group of players, minus the athletic Kyrie Irving, and plus noted non-decathletes Brian Zoubek and Jon Scheyer.

Instead we should give shock its due. Even Lute Olson, asked by Leslie Visser in the second half what the heck was happening, was clearly befuddled. (Watching a team in the midst of scoring more than 1.50 points per trip over 20 minutes he waxed eloquent on the defense.) It's probably OK for us to be befuddled too. The fact is Arizona went out in the second half last night and scored 55 points in 36 possessions. Nothing about that should have been possible. Sean Miller's team has a fine offense, but Cal, to take one teachably non-descript example, scored points more effectively during the Pac-10 season than did the Cats. Derrick Williams kept his team within striking distance with a 25-point first half, but, continuing with our jaws-on-the-ground theme, 48 of Arizona's 55 second-half points were scored by players not named "Derrick Williams." The Cats missed 18 shots after halftime and pulled down 11 of those misses. They made 18 of 26 twos, many of which were of the emphatic zero-foot poster-ready variety. "The tournament is cruel," Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. Yes, cruel half the time, and on rare occasions stunning.

(3) Connecticut 74, (2) San Diego State 67 [64]
In theory it was crucial for the Aztecs to prevent second chances for UConn, and on paper Steve Fisher's team actually did pretty well, pulling down 71 percent of the Huskies' misses. But if you watched this game you know that paper can lie. SDSU could have had the ball trailing by just one point if they'd gathered in Kemba Walker's miss with 1:48 remaining. Instead Alex Oriakhi, who's been doing heroic if underpublicized things on the offensive glass in the postseason, got the rebound and dished the rock to Jeremy Lamb. When Lamb's three cleared the net, Bill Raftery exclaimed "Dagger!" and he was right. Connecticut is in the Elite Eight because no postseason opponent has been able to hold Jim Calhoun's team to less than a point per trip. And last night the Huskies extended this streak through a novel device: good shooting from the field. Lamb scored 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Walker helped that along by drawing the Aztecs' attention and help-defense his way, scoring 36 points on 25 shots. For the first time in the postseason against a competitive opponent, UConn failed to get to the line 20 times. San Diego State followed the game plan and lost the game.

SOUTHEAST

(2) Florida 83, (3) BYU 74 (OT) [80]
If this keeps up the Gators are going to be ignored all the way to the national championship. Last Saturday Billy Donovan's team advanced to its first Sweet 16 in four years, but no one noticed because the game was immediately followed by, well, The Game. Last night Florida advanced to the Elite Eight in a strikingly perimeter-oriented contest, and the first play in any highlight package you see will be the ridiculously long three drained by an opposing player who for the evening went 3-of-15 on his threes. Nine out of ten tweets in this game's aftermath dwelt Twihard-like on the end of said player's career. Florida's top scorer is commonly regarded as not even the field's best remaining player with his own last name. Even the Gators' own fans seem uncommonly subdued, as if adhering to every applicable stereotype regarding the amount of attention paid to non-Kentucky SEC hoops. It's enough to make a head coach wave his arms and shout skyward: Isn't there anyone who knows what Florida is all about? Sure, Billy Donovan, I know what Florida is all about. In the NCAA tournament the Gators have made 61 percent of their twos and scored 235 points in 205 possessions. They're knifing through opposing defenses like Arizona after halftime. Brad Stevens and his now 5-0 eyeglasses had better be ready.

(8) Butler 61, (4) Wisconsin 54 [63]
The Bulldogs are now 4-1 against higher-seeded opponents in the last two NCAA tournaments and, in the present tense, we're seeing that a team where Matt Howard is not in foul trouble is a sight to behold. The paradox of teams that good in March, of course, is that they put themselves in a position to be on-hand when the opponent implodes. Certainly Stevens and his staff have shown beyond a doubt they can make the other team look bad, but in the specific instance of Wisconsin's ungainly appearance we are additionally dealing with some multi-game trends. Over the last 80 minutes of the season Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor were a combined 15-of-59 from the field. Bo Ryan's team was able to finesse that trend against Belmont and Kansas State. Not so against Butler. Give the Bulldogs their due. Churchill said success means going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Between January 23 and February 3, Butler lost three straight to Milwaukee (OT), Valparaiso (OT), and Youngstown State (62-60). Now look. If Thad Matta weren't otherwise engaged he'd be rightly proud of his alma mater.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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